Archive for the ‘Tyler Clippard’ Category

“We Decided To Go With The Closer”

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

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A transforming season that saw the Washington Nationals lead the National League in victories suddenly became a season of “what ifs” on Saturday night, with the Nats losing an historic 2-1 eighteen inning contest to the San Francisco Giants. The loss leaves the Nats now having to notch three “must wins” to advance to the NLCS  — two of them on the road.

With two outs in the ninth inning, and starter Jordan Zimmermann coasting to a 1-0 victory, Nats skipper Matt Williams walked to the mound, took the ball from Zimmermann, and called on closer Drew Storen to get the final out of the game. Storen couldn’t do it — giving up a hit to Buster Posey and a game-tying double to Pablo Sandoval.

What the Nationals have notched their win if Williams had stuck with Zimmermann? Would the outcome have been different had home plate umpire Vic Carapazza not have tightened the strike zone on the D.C. righty? We’ll never know. Instead, nine innings after Zimmermann left the game, Giants first sacker Brandon Belt homered off of Tanner Roark to give the Giants their improbable 2-1 win.

Williams explained his decision to lift Zimmermann to the press following the loss: “If he got in trouble in the ninth or got a baserunner, we were going to bring our closer in,” Williams said. “That is what we have done all year. Zimmermann got the first two guys, he wasn’t going to face Posey . . . We decided to go with the closer.”

The 18 inning game was the longest in MLB post-season history and lived up to its billing. Zimmermann dueled a revived Tim Hudson through seven complete innings (Hudson left, down 1-0, after 7.1), as both pitchers matched 1-2-3 lines. Hudson’s only hiccup came in the bottom of the 3rd, when an Anthony Rendon single scored Asdrubal Cabrera for Washington’s lone run.

The Giants first run (and the one that knotted the game at one apiece) in the top of the 9th provided the sell-out crowd with the most dramatic moment of the game. After closer Storen gave up a hit to Posey, and with Joe Panik on second, third sacker Pablo Sandoval followed with a dipsy-doodle stroke down the left field line. Panik scored, but Bryce Harper winged a throw to Ian Desmond, who gunned out Posey at the plate.

The play was reviewed, but the umpire’s call on the close tag of Posey by Wilson Ramos stood and the Nats and Giants headed to extra innings. What followed was a marathon as both teams emptied their bullpens, until Brandon Belt’s home run in the top of the 18th.

The extra innings marathon feature pitching that was nearly as brilliant as Zimmermann’s. Craig Stammen and the iffy Rafael Soriano (and Tyler Clippard and Jerry Blevins — and everyone else) stepped up for the Nationals, while Yusmeiro Petit was brilliant in six innings for the Giants. But, in the end, it was Belt’s blast that made the difference.

“I just wanted to get on base for the guys behind me: `Get `em on, get `em over and get `em in.’ Fortunately, I put a good enough swing on it,” Belt said after the Giants’ win.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The best commentary on Williams’ 9th inning decision that we’ve read, or heard, comes for the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell. Writing this morning, Boswell questioned whether Williams made the right decision in bringing Storen in in relief . . .

For Boswell, at least, the answer is “no.” It’s hard to disagree. Williams himself noted in his post-game presser that “it’s easy to second guess” and that “hindsight is 20-20.” All true. But the words are Exhibit A that Boswell isn’t the only one questioning the Williams decision — Williams is too. And while Williams is no Ned Yost (the Kansas City Curse), we are left to wonder why he simply couldn’t utter the words “what the hell, he got us this far . . .”

Boswell comes up with the only explanation out there: Williams thinks through a plan, implements it, and follows it through — no matter what. “From the first day of spring training, Williams has been a man defined by his detailed plans, his schedules and his love of predictable order,” Boswell writes. “It has served him and his team 96-wins well. But he is not very flexible . . .”

That seems right to us. Our only mumbled addition is a defense of Williams that goes something like this: having an inflexible plan is better than not having one at all — which was the case in Chicago and Cincinnati during the Dusty Baker years . . .

Inaction is sometimes a “virtue,” as Boswell writes, and last night in the 9th was certainly one of them for the Nationals. But if Washington fans think bad decision making is a fault, they should have been in Chicago during the Prior-Wood era, or in Cincinnati (where arms go to die) two years ago . . .

We’ll take Williams, despite his faults, in lieu of the more undisciplined approach of Davey Johnson, or the incoherent (lets fight with the players) style of the dreadful Yost. That said, it wouldn’t be too much to ask for Matty to admit what we all know to be true, particularly in the wake of heartbreakers like Saturday night. “This one is on me . . .”

But we can’t let the moment pass without reflecting on the other unnecessary intervention in Saturday’s game. Home plate umpire Vic Carapazza’s strike zone was the most incoherent we’ve seen in some time. He lowered the strike zone on Bryce Harper (who yapped at him in disgust), then raised it on Asdrubal Cabrera, who was tossed (along with Williams) when Cabrera and Williams argued it . . .

Carapazza was lousy, and we’re not the only ones who think so. MASN analyst F.P. Santangelo allowed that Carpazazza called “a terrible game,” MLB Network veteran Mark DeRosa speculated that Carapazza was out of his depth (“maybe the stage was too big for him”) and Jon Heyman noted that Carapazza’s 9th inning strike zone was, ah, “borderline . . .”

Nevermind. It’s all history now. The Nationals are on to San Francisco, where they face elimination at the hands of a Giants team that finds a way to win — or, perhaps, sometimes simply figure that, if they hang in there long enough, the other guys will find a way to lose . . .

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Nats Blasts Not Enough Against The Giants

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

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Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera each homered for the Nationals, but the round trippers weren’t enough to tame the Giants, as Washington fell to San Francisco 3-2 in the first game of their five game National League Division Series face-off. The two teams will continue their fight to play in the N.L. Championship series on Saturday.

The Giants victory was fueled by a nose-in-the-dirt outing from San Francisco righty Jake Peavy, who no-hit the Nationals into the 5th inning, when Bryce Harper finally connected for an infield single. When Peavy exited the game after two outs in the 6th, he’d held the Nationals to just two hits and no runs and had struck out three.

“Peavy was unbelievable,” Harper said, following hit team’s loss. “He has been in this game a long time. I don’t know if I should be saying this, but I love his mentality out there and the way he pitches. He screams and yells and does what he does out there. That’s a gamer’s mentality. I have the utmost respect for Peavy for the way he threw tonight.”

Washington starter Stephen Strasburg, meanwhile, labored through five innings, giving up eight hits. The Giants played a small ball, hit-to-contact game against Strasburg, nickel-and-diming him with line-drive singles up the middle. Singles from Joe Panik, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey put the Giants ahead, 3-0 by the 7th inning.

The Giants’ hit-em-where-they-aint’s routine was frustrating for Washington’s young righty, who put in a solid performance, but took the loss. “Wasn’t like they were hitting me all around the yard,” Strasburg acknowledged, following his loss. “Hit it where we weren’t.”

Washington finally clawed back from the early deficit in the 7th, when Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera launched home runs that brought the Nationals within a single run. Harper’s breathtaking homer landed in the upper deck of right field, as the 45-000-plus Nats fans screamed their appreciation.

Jerry Blevins, Craig Stammen, Matt Thornton and Tyler Clippard followed Strasburg to the mound, providing workmanlike relief to the righty ace. But San Francisco responded by putting an extra run on the board in the 7th against Stammen, when Joe Panik led off the inning with a triple and was plated by a clutch Buster Posey single.

“Like I said, we had opportunities,” Nats skipper Matt Williams told the press after his team’s loss. “One swing of the bat can mean the difference in our game today. It didn’t happen. We will see if it can happen tomorrow.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Bryce Harper’s 7th inning home run traveled 445 feet and landed in the third tier, bouncing forward where it was retrieved by a fan. The home run came off reliever Hunter Strickland, a late season addition to the Giants’ roster and the reputed “closer of the future” for San Francisco . . .

The Giants game plan against Strasburg was to hit his fastball up the middle, and not to do too much. It seemed to work. “He was good,” manager Matt Williams said. “Throwing strikes early. It wasn’t that he was so excited that he wasn’t throwing strikes. Worked through the first inning well. I think he pitched fine . . . ”

Nats fans were silenced, and a little surprised, by San Francisco’s early offensive, but then got back into the game when Harper homered. When Asdrubal Cabrera then hit his round tripper (following a Wilson Ramos “K”), lifting his arms into the air to spur the home town crowd, the fans responded . . .

Cabrera’s home run didn’t have the distance of Harper’s, but it was impressive nonetheless. The offering from Hunter Strickland was high-and-away, and came in at 97 mph. Cabrera reached out to get it, and actually pulled it down the right field line. Very few 97 mph fastballs are pulled that well . . .

Strickland is an impressive addition for the Giants who is capable of providing late inning heat. But his final line on Friday was downright terrible. He gave up two hits, both of them home runs, and his final ERA for the day came in at a solid 18.00 . . .

The Nationals stranded seven runners on Friday and were 0-7 with runners in scoring position. That was the difference in the game, though the Giants pointed to the performance of starter Peavy and their playoff experience as the key to their victory . . .

“I think we tapped into our postseason experience,” San Francisco closer Sergio Romo said. “There’s that little extra thing in our chemistry — that focus, that determination — that separates postseason games from regular-season games. Everything seems to matter in the playoffs . . .

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Nats Keep Rolling, Edge Miami 3-2

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

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Sloppy play and a slow start weren’t enough to deny the Nationals their 90th win of the season, or starter Jordan Zimmermann his 13th, as Washington rallied to edge the Marlins in Miami on Saturday night, 3-2. The win, coupled with a Dodgers loss against the Cubs, lifted the Nats 2.5 games ahead of Los Angeles for the best record in the National League.

Starter Zimmermann was once again the ace of the game, throwing six innings of five hit baseball while striking out four. The victory for Zimmermann marked the Nationals tenth consecutive win with “the Ace of Auburndale” on the mound. Zimmermann soldiered on after taking a pitch off his shoulder in the sixth inning — a dangerous line drive that threw ripples of fear through the Nats dugout.

“It happened so fast,” Zimmermann said, after the Nationals victory. “I saw the ball coming and thought that it was stopped. I just tried turning and lift my shoulder. I was lucky enough that it hit my shoulder and not my face. It’s a little sore, pretty tight right now but it will be fine. It’s not going to affect me.”

The victory also marked the return of third sacker (and, now, left fielder) Ryan Zimmerman, who had missed 55 games, to the line-up. Zimmerman’s contribution was immediate. The “face of the franchise” was 2-3 on the night, with a single (in his first at bat in the second inning), and a triple in the 7th that scored Ian Desmond. “It was fun to be out there and be part of the team and be out with the guys in a really good win,” Zimmerman said.

Miami scored a single run in the first inning on four hits, including an RBI single from rookie Justin Bour. The Marlins scored their second run in the fourth, after Reed Johnson led off with a double to center field. Denard Span retrieved the ball off the wall, but overthrew cutoff man Asdrubal Cabrera. Backing up the play, Jordan Zimmermann overthrew Anthony Rendon at third, which allowed Johnson to score.

“I knew I overthrew the first cutoff guy, but I thought the ball was gonna get caught,” Denard Span said of the unusual two error play. “I turned my head and all of a sudden I heard the crowd roaring. I was like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ Next thing you know, he was rounding third.”

All of Washington’s runs were scored during a 7th inning rally that began with an Ian Desmond single. Desmond then scored on a Ryan Zimmerman triple, with Zimmerman then ruled out at home on a Wilson Ramos fielder’s choice. But second sacker Asdrubal Cabrera kept the inning going with a triple that scored Ramos. Cabrera, in turn, scored on a Denard Span single.

The three run 7th inning held up, with the Nationals bullpen closing out the game. Aaron Barrett and Tyler Clippard closed down Miami in the 7th and 8th innings, with Drew Storen keeping the Marlins off the board in the 9th (with the help of a game ending double play), notching his ninth save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Braves season was still alive last week, but their skid just goes on and on. Last night the Braves were upended in Atlanta by the suddenly dangerous Metropolitans, who shut out the Tomahawks, 2-0. Atlanta is 4-13 in the month of September. Which means that the Braves “tragic number” is two: if they lose today, and the Pirates win, the Braves will be out of the post-season . . .

“I thought we had good at-bats up and down the lineup,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, after last night’s loss. Really? The Braves were 2-10 with runners in scoring position. And. And don’t look now, but the Mets and Marlins have an outside chance of catching the Braves for second place in the National League East, which would just about do-in the Cobb County faithful . . .

And, ah, wouldn’t that be a shame . . .

Meanwhile, the Braves of the West (otherwise known as the Oakland Athletics) continue their imitation of a demolition derby. It’s getting really ugly, which means that it’s nearly impossible to avert your eyes. We tune in every night to watch the A’s, just so we can see how they’ll screw up this time. The A’s are 6-12 in September, and continue to find new ways to lose . . .

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Nats Poised To Win The East After 3-0 New York Victory

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals continued their dominance of the New York Mets on Sunday, notching a convincing 3-0 victory that extended their lead to ten games over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. The victory brought the Nats record against the Mets to 13-3 for the year, with the team winning nine of ten games at Citi Field.

Oddly, the Mets have a winning record against the rest of baseball, and would finish the season above .500 were it not for their record against the Nationals. That is, while the Mets are 3-13 against the Nats, they are 69-65 against everyone else.

The Nationals win came against Mets starter Jonathon Niese, who stymied Washington’s offense until Wilson Ramos blasted a two run home run against the looming southpaw in the key 7th inning. The loss was Niese’s eleventh of the season, as the Mets record fell to 72-78 on the 2014 campaign.

“Towards the end of the year you want to play your best baseball,” Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann said after the victory, “and I think we’re doing that.” Zimmermann added that he thought it would be “really great” for Washington “to win this whole thing” in their upcoming away series in Atlanta. The win in New York marked Zimmermann’s sixth consecutive win.

Zimmermann threw a solid 6.2 innings, striking out five, in registering his twelth win of the season. The Ace of Auburndale was able to wriggle out of number of tough jams in his six-plus innings of work, which included a bases loaded threat in the bottom of the 4th. The Mets were 0-8 with runners in scoring position.

The Nationals banged out eight hits versus New York pitching, with Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond both continuing their hot-as-a-firecracker September. Werth and Desmond were both 2-4 on the day, with Desmond crossing the plate twice. The Saturday win followed a 10-3 butchering on the Mets on Saturday.

The Nationals bullpen once again provided a stellar outing in relief of Zimmermann. Lefty Matt Thornton and righty Tyler Clippard pitched the Nationals through the 7th and 8th innings, with Drew Storen closing the game in the 9th. Storen picked up his fifth save on the season.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals, at 85-63, own the best record in the National League — by a single game over the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are 84-64. The Los Angeles Angels, with 93 wins lead all of baseball, while the Baltimore Orioles have 88 wins and are nearly shoo-ins to win the A.L. East . . .

The Nationals will now travel to Atlanta, where they will line-up against the Braves in a crucial three game series. The Nationals could seal a division championship with a sweep, while Atlanta needs to win to stay relevant in the Wild Card race in the National League. Atlanta trails the Giants and Pirates by three-and-a-half games in the Wild Card race . . .

The Braves have dropped two in a row to Texas Rangers, the worst team in baseball. Braves fans aren’t happy about it. “Braves lose to Rangers, season all but over,” Braves blog Talking Chop headlined yesterday. The “offense is completely broken” Talking Chop reported, but then focused on Atlanta’s defensive problems . . .

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Nats Edge Atlanta In Dramatic 2-1 Win

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

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The Nationals are playing October playoff baseball in September at Nationals Park, with dramatic pitching performances and clutch come-from-behind victories that are vaulting Washington to the top of the National League East. Last night, in a dramatic playoff atmosphere, the Nationals edged the Altanta Braves behind the pitching of Doug Fister, 2-1.

The victory put the Nationals eight games ahead of second place Atlanta and reduced the team’s magic number to win the East at 12 games. Fister, who threw seven inning of two hit baseball to notch his 13th win of the season, was the key to the win. Fister induced eleven ground ball outs and struck out three in the victory. Atlanta’s Mike Minor took the loss.

“We’ve struggled all year against the Braves,” Drew Storen, who pitched a 1-2-3 9th inning to register his second straight save, said of the win. “It’s nothing new to anybody, but for us to go out and play our game — and that’s a tight game that can swing either way — for us to lock that down is really good.”

The Nationals scored early against Minor, with Anthony Rendon, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond singling in the first inning. Desmond’s single scored Rendon for the Nationals first run. The Nats scored again in the bottom of the 7th when Jeff Kobernus, pinching running for Wilson Ramos, scored from third on a fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Rendon.

Atlanta’s Mike Minor matched Fister pitch-for-pitch, until being pulled by Atlanta skipper Fredi Gonzalez after six complete innings. The scrappy Minor kept the Braves in the game just enough that, in the seventh inning, the Braves threatened to grab the lead after Fister walked Freddie Freeman and Tommy La Stella. But Fister was able to pitch out of the jam, inducing a ground ball out from shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

“Tonight was a baseball game, a well-played baseball game on both sides and well pitched,” Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. “No errors or mistakes there for either team. Their pitcher was able to hold us to one less run, and them getting the extra run with a groundout. It didn’t take a lot. That’s the definition of a good game.”

A crowd of 25,000-plus watched the Nats victory, but was more raucous than usual — a sign that Nats fans know that their team doesn’t always play its best against their division rivals. Which gave added drama to the victory and made the contest feel like a do-or-die October playoff game.

“It would be nice to win the division knowing that we can beat the Braves more than winning the division knowing that we can’t beat the Braves,” Washington reliever Craig Stammen said. “This proves we can play good baseball against a good team and prepare us for a playoff-type atmosphere if we get to that point.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The last two weeks have been a nightmare for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Crew has lost 12 of their last thirteen games and plummeted out of first place in the National League Central. They now trail the St. Louis stinking Cardinals by six games and are struggling to stay in the Wild Card race . . .

Last night in Miami, and against a team that is three games under .500, Milwaukee lost a 6-4 decision to the Marlins, while gamely attempting a last gasp two run effort to rally in the eighth inning. It was not to be. “We can’t make the pitch when we need to,” first sacker Mark Reynolds said after the loss. “We can’t get the big hit when we need it. It’s just a culmination of frustration . . .”

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Nats In “Epic Collapse” As Phillies Win In 11

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

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If there are “epic wins” (and there have been this season), then there are certainly “epic losses” — and, for the Washington Nationals, Friday night was one of them. Leading by three runs going into the 9th inning, Nationals closer Rafael Soriano gave up two home runs (to Carlos Ruiz and Ben Revere) and Washington went on to lose to the Philadelphia Phillies in 11 innings, 9-8.

The loss featured nearly every up (and down) that Nationals fans have seen this year: a solid outing from starter Stephen Strasbug (who threw six solid innings of four hit baseball), a hot hand from a heroic Adam LaRoche (who hit yet another home run and notched three RBIs), and a wobbly 9th from an embattled closer whose job is now in jeopardy.

And there was also the unusual, and surprising — including a muffed fly ball off the bat of Dominic Brown in the 11th inning that featured a keystone cops-like outfield collision between Bryce Harper and Denard Span. Two batters later, a throwing error from Tyler Moore allowed Brown to score. Philadelphia’s two runs in the 11th held up to give the Ashburns the win.

After the loss, left fielder Harper confirmed that he was at fault in the rare outfield play, which gave the Nationals three errors on the night. “It got to the point where I thought I could get it, he called it and we bump into each other,” Harper said. “Center field priority, of course. I got to get out of there.”

So what now? As the boos rained down on Soriano when he walked from the mound to the dugout in the 9th, it was clear that skipper Matt Williams would have to rethink who will close games for the home towners, a viewpoint that a testy Williams confirmed during his tense post-game press conference.

“We’re certainly going to have to take a hard look at it,” Williams told the press after the game. “It’s not an easy decision. None of them are. But we want to be able to close those games out. Sori understands that, he’s been around the block.”

The Soriano decision, and the two home runs he gave up in the 9th, overawed what had been a solid outing for the ballclub, and one in which one of the toughest line-ups in the game had put seven runs on the board in nine innings.

The Nationals seven runs had come courtesy of a cascade of hits from Adam LaRoche (who’s first inning home run scored Anthony Rendon), Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper (whose fourth inning singles yield a third run), a Rendon double that scored Denard Span (in the 5th) and a Jayson Werth ground rule double and Adam LaRoche sacrifice fly in the 7th.

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Span And Gio Lead The Nats In L.A.

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

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Two home runs off the bat of Denard Span, plus a solid six inning outing from lefty Gio Gonzalez, led the Nationals to a 6-4 victory over the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Combined with a 7-0 shutout of the Braves at the hands of the Phillies, the Nationals now lead the N.L. East by seven games.

Never known as a long ball hitter (the center fielder has 31 in his seven years in the majors), Span’s round trippers in the third and fifth innings provided Washington with two of its four home runs in the game. Span was 2-5 in the game with three RBIs. Jayson Werth and Asdrubal Cabrera also homered for Washington.

“I really can’t explain it other than the home runs come in bulk,” Span said of his two home run game. “I’m just hitting the ball pretty good. I’m going out there and not trying to hit home runs. I hit the ball hard somewhere, and that’s really it.” The Nationals have hit fourteen home runs in the last four games.

“It’s not something that we live by. We manufacture better than we hit homers, but we’ll take them. You can’t give them back. We’ll try to win games however we can,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said of his team’s home run outburst.

The Nationals homer fest in L.A. came at the expense of Dodgers’ starter Roberto Hernandez, who was pulled by manager Don Mattingly after giving up five hits and five earned runs in 4.1 innings of work. Hernandez (now 2-2 on the season), attributed his poor outing to lack of command — leaving his fastball up in the strike zone to Nats hitters.

“I didn’t have command of my pitches from the first inning,” Hernandez said of his performance. “It was just a matter of things not working for me. It wasn’t that I had lost confidence.”

A frustrated Mattingly agreed that lack of command provided Washington with its early scoring opportunities:  “You get behind in too many counts and you’ve got to pay,” he said. “You help them a lot by continuing to get behind in the count.”

But while Hernandez might have lost his command, it was clear that southpaw Gio Gonzalez found his. Gonzalez, who has struggled in 2014, won his first game since his victory against the Cubs on July 5. Gonzalez picked up the victory by pitching six solid innings while striking out four.

A bevy of Washington relievers kept the Nationals in front, with Drew Storen, Matt Thornton and Tyler Clippard giving up a single hit in two innings of work. As usual, closer Rafael Soriano provided a nail biting ending, giving up a run and two hits in the ninth inning before sealing his 31st save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Four Philadelphia pitchers combined to no-hit the Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta on Sunday, providing the Phillies with a 7-0 blanking of their division rivals. While combined no hitters are unusual, they’re not a rarity. There have been eleven combined no-no’s in MLB history . . .

The combined no hitter came when Phillies skipper Ryne Sandberg decided to pinch hit for starter Cole Hamels when the lefty’s pitch count reached 108 after six complete innings. With a runner on second in the 6th and the temperature in hot and muggy Atlanta soaring, Sandberg thought he had little choice. “He was pretty well spent there,” Sandberg said . . .

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